Next week, Marisa sets sail to begin her grad program at the University of Chicago (hell yeah!). While it’s true that she’s going to out-theorize and out-accessorize the rest of her cohort, it’s also true that she’ll be leaving behind a Marisa-sized hole in the Bay Area. To celebrate her entry into the World of Academia and wish her safe travels, the lot of us convened for a Grey Gardens-themed going away party. We donned headscarves (a few of us, anyhow), watched the movie at a low volume, and — of course — assembled a feast of kitschy hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Here, then, is a summary of what goodies everyone brought:
Marisa, guest of honor, made a delicious Corn Salad, whose ingredients included corn, chopped red onion, avocado, halved grape tomatoes, cilantro, and a dressing of olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper. (Marisa, correct me if I excluded anything from this list.) M’s was a perfect summer salad, lightly dressed, using fresh ingredients, and seasoned with an even hand. In fact, I think I might make a batch this week — possibly with the addition of black beans and finely chopped jicama? Or maybe just as M. prepared it.
Anne’s dish remained a secret until the moment of its reveal. She gave us a few clues about its constitution, but [wisely] chose not to publicize its ingredient list until after we’d tried a bite. Anne’s sis works as a church organist, and this dish, evidently, is a big hit at her sis’ place of work. The main clue Anne provided about her dish was that she didn’t know whether “it was sweet or savory” — a compelling uncertainty, to be sure. I guessed that maybe she was making pork in aspic, but she assured me that no meat products were to be used in her recipe. (Note: I later realized that pork in aspic probably wouldn’t be classified as sweet: d’oh.) Can you guess what the mystery ingredient is?
BEETS! This is a Beet Jello Ring — not as creepy as you might think. The ring was made using lemon Jello, vinegar, canned beets, and a horseradish sauce (plus a few other things, I believe), and it was surprisingly not bad. Of course, I’m a great lover of beets (fresh and canned alike), but I can see how this salad, served cold and as a relish to thick-cut ham, could have popular appeal. The taste of the lemon didn’t come through, masked by the vinegar though it was. I think if the amount of vinegar were slightly reduced, this could become mildly trendy. In my home, at least.
Anne also brought a variety of donuts from Bob’s Donuts, and for this I was ueber-grateful. Bob’s Donut and Pastry Shop is a local institution that I had heretofore failed to try, but I’m already planning my inaugural visit (if you all are free this weekend, you should join me). I had a chocolate-frosted donut, and it was gooey, unadulterated deliciousness.
Perhaps the most highly-anticipated dish of the night was Nathan’s Icebox Cake, prepared from scratch using a traditional recipe.
Before this weekend, I’d never heard about the Icebox Cake, but here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
An icebox cake (American), zebra cake (British), or chocolate ripple log (Australian) is a dessert consisting of whipped cream and chocolate wafers. The back-of-the-box recipe on Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers indicates that the wafers are stacked to form a log with whipped cream cementing them together, and then the log is laid on its side. A second log is formed and the two are set side-by-side and more whipped cream covers the exterior. The cake is then left overnight in the refrigerator (or “icebox).” The wafers absorb moisture from the whipped cream and the whole can be served in slices. The dessert is usually served by cutting it into slices at a 45 degree angle, so bands of chocolate and cream are visible across each slice. The traditional wafers are the Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, but they can be hard to find so other cookies are often substituted.
That’s a pretty accurate description — Nathan said that he wasn’t able to find the Chocolate Wafers, so he used Oreos gutted of their frosting. He made sure to slice the cake at a 45-degree angle, ensuring a beautiful cross-section. I can’t think of anything better, on a summer evening, than chocolate cookies buried in a column of fresh whipped cream.
Further solidifying the evening’s informal theme of sugary decadence were Sarah’s Vegan Donut Holes and Stephanie’s Marble Faun Fudge (so named in reference to the MF in Grey Gardens). Both were a delight. Sarah’s decision to make the donut holes bite-sized (a bit larger than cherry tomatoes) was a wise one — they were totally snackable, and they were gone by the end of the night. Stephanie’s fudge was also a hit — it was super rich but not too sweet, which is rare, for many fudges. Sadly, I didn’t get close-up photos of these treats, though the fudge can be seen in the first pic in this post (right behind the bifurcated donuts).
You may be wondering what I contributed to this Potluck of Awesomeness. Answer: Pigs in a Blanket, that canonically Midwestern appetizer yielded from Lit’l Smokies wrapped in Crescent Roll dough and sprinkled with shredded Parmesan, baked at 375 until the dough becomes golden brown, and served with horseradish mustard. Not glamorous — No! — but hella tasty. Here are photos documenting the creation of the Pigs:
There was a time in the not-so-recent past when I would have scoffed at the thought of enjoying Pigs in a Blanket. Nitrate-heavy “sausages” encased in faux-Croissants? Puh-leeze! But you know what? The pigs are good — addictively so. After all, their longevity as a finger food (at potlucks, Superbowl parties, church suppers, and so on) isn’t an accident: people wouldn’t continue eating them with such gusto if they were awful. Word to the wise.
Marisa, you will be missed, but your culinary legacy will live on! Every time I eat a Saint Benoit yogurt, Spam Musubi, or a Trader Joe’s strawberry bar, I will think of you. I hope that you’ll keep us informed of gastro-happenings in Chicago, too — it’s been a good five years since I’ve been to Chi, but I remember some pretty tasty restaurants there. Someday — maybe soon? — I’ll venture Midwestward and send a dispatch from the Third Coast.